5 Tips to Help Your Child Make Friends

September 13, 2015

in Ask Dr Lisa, Autism Challenges


Dr. Lisa, my son is 7 and has a habit of going up to his friends and squeezing, touching or even pushing his friends. This seems to be annoying his friends and I am afraid if he does not stop this behavior, he will be the kid who the other boys do not want to play with. He has Sensory Processing Disorder and we have been told he is a seeker. We try to talk to him about his behavior, but nothing seems to work. Can you suggest any ideas?” – Diane

This is a tough behavior to undo right away, so first thing is to be patient with it.

Seekers are looking for sensory input into the nervous system, so touching and hugging others although annoying to others (rightfully so), he is not doing it on purpose. Always keep that in mind.

The nervous system with a seeker is needing an input from the outside world. Typically this comes from the senses of sight, taste, touch, smell, sound, vestibular (balance), proprioception   (joint motion). A seeker is simply a nervous system within a child looking for stimulation to come INTO the body from the OUTSIDE world via the senses so it can regulate.

That being said, you need to try the following 5 things which work quiet well.

Prep The Nervous System

Before you have a friend over or meet up at a park, make sure you have helped your child prep his nervous system, providing stimuli into the senses so the nervous system will self-regulate. What this means is you do not want your child going into a play date or romp with his friends with all this ON energy and need to busy his/her nervous system. Try a few strategies to self-regulate the nervous system such as brushing the skin, spinning on swing, crash pad, massage, wheel barrel exercises or yoga.

Design a Reward Base Behavior Plan

Use a behavior chart, token or ticket reward system where you reward your child when he/she interacts well with a friend. List the specific skills you want your child to learn and reward him on the spot when he does this correctly. For example, when your child he keeps a conversation going, when he does not touch or get into his friend’s personal space or when he plays correctly. Role play how you want your child to interact with is friend, practicing the social skills, not expecting them.

 Keep Play Dates to a Certain Time

Don’t keep play dates or gatherings too long. Time with friends may be going well, but the entire interaction can still be overwhelming your child’s nervous system. A great tip is to keep the interaction short so your child can use the skills he is learning, but also take a break and unwind at home. The more your child learns to master the social skills you are working on, the longer he will be able to hang with his friends.

Create Structured Play Dates

When play dates and gatherings have a plan of action, kids know what is going to happen next. Many issues arise when kids do not know what to do next or what is going to happen next. Sometimes they can’t think of something to do so they get bored or confused. This can lead to anxiety and overwhelm as some kids think no one wants to play with them, but what may be happening is they need a structured schedule that keeps them interacting, busy and knowing what is going to happen next.

Choose Friends Wisely

Let me say this again. Choose friends wisely. Do not choose friends that your child thinks is good for him or that you like, but in all reality, may have nothing in common with. The secret to having friends for a child with ASD is to make friends with other kids with ASD. These kids get each other. Their parents understand one another and the friendships that can come from choosing families with ASD can be amazingly supportive on so many levels. There is no judgement, bullying or ignorance. Forcing friendships with families who do not understand or have children with ASD is setting yourself and your child up for misunderstandings and struggles.

Okay, I know that last one is a tough one to hear, but in all honesty it is truth. Your child is a gorgeous soul with an amazing gift to share with the world. Not every child is going to click with him. Not every mom is going to get him. Your job is to find others like him with similar interests and yeah, corkiness. That is the super cool part that will bond them.

I assure you my two oldest boys are geeky and love Marvel movies and comics, vintage cartoons and music. In fact when they were 7, they were obsessed with imaginary play which I didn’t realize has a name of role play or scripting. This was cute when really young, but I got super nervous and had them hide it when kids would come over that were more into sports and being popular.

I realized that I spent a few years trying to get them to fit in with typical popular kids and you know what, all I had to do was find kids more like them and embrace THEM. Today, my boys mix well with those popular kids and many come to them for answers to video games, how to play an instrument, upgrade or debug a computer or solve a complex math problem.

Social skills take time to learn, so remember to teach your child the skills of making friends instead of expecting them. You can read more ways to help you child here. I also wrote a popular Autism book The Overtilted Child: Creating Sensational Classrooms for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD and SPD. I walk you through I created successful breakthroughs for my son.

Don’t worry, you child’s gifts are best to shine if you allow yourself to find friends who help him be WHO HE IS.

Photo is by Dollar Photo Cub


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